In Conversation with Garry Kasparov | The Blueprint | July 7, 2022


By Stephen Wentzell

This article is a reprint. You can see the original at The Blueprint.

“Garry Kasparov navigates life the same way he plays chess: always thinking three steps ahead.

The Russian chess grandmaster—who once organized a campaign against President Vladimir Putin in the 2008 presidential election—is now the leader of the Human Rights Foundation and creator of the Renew Democracy Initiative in the United States.

Kasparov was a featured speaker at last month’s Collision conference in Toronto, an event POLITICO has referred to as “the Olympics of tech.” Between a panel about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and winning 11 games of chess in under an hour (all at the same time), I had the chance to sit down with him.

In our conversation, Kasparov spoke about digital security and vulnerabilities in election infrastructure, as well as the upcoming American elections and the war in Ukraine.

Kasparov, who appeared at the conference on behalf of antivirus company Avast Security, stressed that data sovereignty is more important now than ever.

He explained that every element of an election cycle is somehow connected to online activity—through political debate, disseminating both news and disinformation, or even mobilizing a grassroots campaign.

As far as the political polarization created by social media goes, Kasparov believes the toothpaste is already out of the tube.

After spending years sacrificing security for convenience, he believes there’s nothing left we can do to stop the Meta’s and the Google’s of the world.

Instead, Kasparov wants users to either receive some compensation for the sharing of their data or acquire more layers of protection to help give individuals some say in the data they share.

“Let’s step up the protective measures that will punish the companies for unauthorized use of the data,” he said, adding that people should be the sole owners of their data.

What’s the point of regulating big tech if nobody follows the rules?

While there’s been increasing pressure on governments to develop laws that would protect users’ data, Kasparov believes it’s impossible to implement regulations that would prove effective and comprehensive due to both the amount of data at hand and new ways of manipulating or bypassing legislation on data.

Kasparov corrected me when I referred to the harvesting of data by organizations like Cambridge Analytica as “illicit.” They’re actually illegal.

“There are so many things being done on the border of the law,” he noted, adding, “What’s the point of all these other measures if nobody follows [them]?”

Kasparov pointed to what he called a “triangle of cooperation” needed between the public, tech companies, and government agencies in order for each one to survive: tech companies need customers to survive, but it all depends on government regulation elected by the influence of the people.

“I want us to think [about] how we can build relations [in that] triangle that will minimize the damage,” he said. “Some damage will be done.”

Rather than regulation, he believes there are more practical solutions. Because companies like Google and Facebook own our data, we can’t just decide we don’t want them to have it anymore. That’s why Kasparov favours compensation for sharing our data while also preventing it from being used to influence an election.

And while North Americans have grown accustomed to their data being used in covert nefarious ways, Kasparov noted the situation is very different in countries like Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey, “where any breach of your data could lead to imprisonment, or worse.”

On Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

When Russia first orchestrated a wide-scale cyber warfare attack on another country for the first time in 2007, Kasparov noted that the free world practically shrugged their shoulders.

“Putin always used cyber as an element of hybrid war. He didn’t even make a secret of that,” Kasparov said.

He explained that after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s cyber attack on Estonia, the Kremlin stepped up its cyber security infrastructure and created an entire industry around the weaponization of data with tactics like troll factories. By the time the Russian government began its cyber attack on the United States in 2015, Putin had nearly a decade of experience perfecting his plans back home.

When it came to digital disinformation campaigns, Putin was successful in ways China was not: rather than having one source of media disseminating information to the public, Putin—as former Trump administration official and recently indicted Steve Bannon would say—flooded the zone with shit. By spreading different levels of propaganda through a swath of legitimate-looking news platforms, it becomes more and more difficult for the public to distinguish what is true from what is false.

He believes that democratic countries have been too cautious and not brave enough to confront their enemies when it comes to protecting cyber infrastructure. That’s why we now see them being forced to fight back.

“We have to recognize that trying to be passive and trying to play cover doesn’t work,” he said, adding that “disabled defense is always inferior.”

Instead of beefing up digital infrastructure defense that are likely already compromised, Kasaprov is urging world leaders to focus on deterrents.

Looking ahead to the 2024 presidential election, Kasparov believes the fight for freedom in Ukraine cannot be separated from America’s fragile democracy. He pointed out that 57 Republican members of Congress voted against a support package for Ukraine in May, while even more—a whopping one-third of House Republicans—voted against a resolution expressing support for NATO and its principles.

On crypto and the Metaverse

When it comes to crypto and the Metaverse, Kasparov isn’t completely sold. He expressed concern about Facebook capitalizing on their swath of data to control the transition into the Metaverse.

That’s why he is on a mission to implement regulations across the globe that would prevent monopolies like Meta, Google, or Apple from controlling the use and sharing of user data.

Looking ahead, Kasparov believes governments can only get a handle on the big tech industry if they achieve two objectives: having competition in their field and guaranteeing the rights of individuals to their data.”


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